Friday, December 30, 2011
The conundrum of shoes left hanging from telephone wires and their meaning has left many baffled but so too has shoes concealed in domiciles. American families have discovered a trove of old shoes hidden in house walls. Not quite an epidemic but none the less puzzling. During the Middle Ages it was commonplace to leave old shoes in roofs and attics for good luck and to ward off evil. More than a thousand concealment shoes, some dating back to the fourteenth century, have been reported in Western Europe alone. In North America concealment shoes have been reported in New England, but there have also been finds of buried shoes as far south as Virginia and far west as Missouri. Very rarely are pairs of shoes found, usually solo shoes, but many caches contain footwear from different people. Almost half the shoes concealed belonged to children with more female footwear found than males. Almost all shoes were well worn. Talisman is not restricted to shoes alone although they are commonplace. An old custom, where I come from, was to scatter coins under the carpet for good luck. Which of course meant as kids, every time mum and dad moved house we lifted the carpet. How many sceptics among us would deliberately walk under a ladder just to tempt fate. If I do I always have my fingers crossed, same goes for when you allow a pole to come between you and a friend, bad Karma, easily undone by saying “bread and butter”. First utterance on the first of the month always is “White rabbits” in our house and so it goes on. Back to shoes though. The penny loafer is a robust moccasin type shoe which had a luck penny caught in the snaffle bar just like any new purse given, as a gift should have a lucky penny within. A rare find reported recently in the US, concerned the demolition of an 18th century house where they discovered a baby's white, ankle-high shoe, some small wooden toys and some ears of corn. Since 1750 the house had undergone many additions and experts remain unclear whether the shoes were hidden at the time the chaise house was built or in a later renovation. All such shoe finds are reported now to the Northampton Shoe Museum in the UK and there they keep a register of concealed shoes. No-one has been able to explain why shoes have been used in this way. Some speculate the tradition stems from an ancient custom of killing someone then building the house over the grave, later in more enlightened days, shoes became a substitute for human sacrifice. Unlikely I think simply became shoe wearing in the very distant past was a minority sport and unless the person was fairly affluent then the chances were they went barefoot. More than likely shoes were selected because they reflected the personality of the wearer. By the Middle Ages, you still had to be pretty well off to have shoes and wearing them was status. They incorporate the spirit of a loved one and their shoe may have been kept as a form of Fen Sui. (or old shoey really). Shoe finds are usually reported near openings in the home e.g. doors, windows, chimneys etc. To the believer of the occult these are all places in the building that are vulnerable to evil. These finds indicate shoe concealment was widespread and long lasting yet it was not recorded in writing until references began to appear in mid-twentieth century archaeology literature in scholarly journals. Men being more secretive than women about such matters it fuels the theory hiding shoes was a male superstition, kept secret almost out of fear that telling about it would reduce its effectiveness. Another reason why this may not have been spoken off was it could have been construed in less enlightened times as a pagan ritual carrying severe punishment. The same superstition has been observed across the globe so for anyone out there involved in home renovation that involve removing walls especially around windows and doors, under roof rafters and behind old chimneys, be alert to the possibility of turning up concealment shoes. While most are found in eighteenth and nineteenth century homes, a find hidden as late as 1935 has been reported. If you are lucky and find concealed shoes tale a photograph as they lie because this information is as important as the shoes themselves. Then you might like to get in touch with the Northampton Shoe Museum who is documenting shoe finds.